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'Downton Abbey:' Third season review

Maggie Smith, left, as the Dowager Countess and

Maggie Smith, left, as the Dowager Countess and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in PBS' "Downton Abbey." Credit: Carnival Films

As you may be aware, "Downton Abbey" wraps its third season Sunday night. And do not worry, a fourth is coming (I'm assuming this fall.). Here's my review in tomorrow's paper .?.?.

Downton Abbey," WNET/13, Sunday, 9.

What it's about: In the third season finale — called simply the "Christmas Special" when it aired last year in the U.K. — the Crawleys head to Duneagle Castle in Scotland, seat of Robert, Earl of Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) cousin, Hugh 'Shrimpie' MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire (Peter Egan). Shrimpie's in an unhappy marriage, and father of a genuine wild child — Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James), last seen in a London nightclub in her cups and in the arms of a married man. Meanwhile, most of the staff remains behind at Downton, and to paraphrase Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), while the cat's away .?.?.

My say: Real "Downton" fans — presumably YOU — will not want to miss a second Sunday night, and not simply because this may be the most cinematically beautiful hour and thirty-two minutes of television all year (much was filmed in Scotland.) There's been some "spoiler" press about some especially dramatic turns. No reason to get into that here.

But this "Christmas Special" does manage to be both a gift and a sweeping thematic expression of what "Downton" has been about all season. The third has tracked shifting fortunes — power gained, power lost and the fragility of human dignity — but the press of time is accelerating too.

Roles are changing, particularly gender roles, and Robert remains resolutely stuck in an Edwardian past. Or as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) observed last week, “Poor Robert. The postwar world is not being kind to him."

The Crawleys don't know it — we do — but another war looms, which will further erode the bedrock of England, or at least their England. Children are representative of that new world too but they've been particularly hard to come by here — an heir finally born to Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) who dies in childbirth. This may well be series’ creator Julian Fellowes way of saying just how tenuous that future is.

Sunday night  (be warned) has a hard conclusion, but what you’ll finally be left of this luminous season is an even deeper affection — and appreciation — for this treasure.

Bottom line: Finale of a superb season does not disappoint. Grade: A+

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